To Repel Ticks, Try Spraying Your Clothes With A Pesticide That Mimics Mums

 When ticks come into contact with clothing sprayed with permethrin, research shows, they quickly become incapacitated and are unable to bite.  Pearl Mak/NPR

When ticks come into contact with clothing sprayed with permethrin, research shows, they quickly become incapacitated and are unable to bite.

Pearl Mak/NPR

With Allison Aubrey. As heard on NPR's Morning Edition

There's new evidence to support a decades-old strategy for preventing the tick bites that lead to all sorts of nasty diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

The remedy involves spraying your clothing with permethrin — a pesticide that's chemically similar to extracts of the flowering chrysanthemum plant.

Back in the 1980s, the U.S. military conducted several tests on a synthetic version of the plant-derived pesticide. When it was shown to be effective in preventing the bites of insects and ticks, the military began to purchase uniforms for soldiers that are factory-treated with permethrin.


Now, many outdoor enthusiasts are converts, too.

"I love being outside — whether it's hiking, biking or climbing," says Danny Quinteros, who lives in Washington, D.C., and works at REI.

Quinteros is planning a hike of the Appalachian Trail, which cuts through many tick-infested areas. And because of the rise in tick-borne diseases, permethrin has become part of his protection routine.

He takes a can and sprays it on a T-shirt. "You want to stay back about 6 to 8 inches away from the clothing," he says. He applies an even coat, then flips the T-shirt over to spray the back.

In addition to treating his clothes with permethrin, Quinteros wears a DEET-based repellent to cover his exposed skin when he's outdoors. Together, he says, these two strategies are very effective.

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